.Letter to the Editor: What’s My Line

Re: “Tracks of the Trade” (GT, 2/2): Since the discussions about the Santa Cruz Branch Line are heating up, it is important to talk about some new developments in regards to the line.

In recent weeks, it was revealed that after Sierra Northern pulled out of its contract with Union Pacific in 2011, Roaring Camp wanted to purchase the branch. The county told them not to, stating that they were going to use state funds to preserve the line. That hasn’t happened. The county has very clearly neglected the line, and we should try to have a local operator run the line.

Environmental Concerns: I did a live stream about this on my YouTube channel, but while the commuter rail is not possible due to the profit margins and overall costs, freight trains are more than possible if the bridges are repaired. According to the EPA, the average freight locomotive emits 22 grams of CO2 per ton-mile, compared to truck operations which emit approximately 65 grams per ton-mile. If Roaring Camp takes over full freight operations, it will undoubtedly decrease greenhouse gas emissions. Remember, one of Greenway’s arguments is about the carbon footprint. If we have fewer trucks transporting freight and have more trains on the line, it will ease the environmental impact.

Roaring Camp’s Defenders: Along with the thousands of letters sent, California State Senator John Laird and San Lorenzo Valley Fire have both jumped in to defend the railroad. Laird stated, “It’s hard to imagine that every effort wouldn’t be made to help and preserve an iconic local business that brings thousands of visitors to Santa Cruz County each year. The Roaring Camp Railway is a strong part of our local economy and our history.” To Laird’s point, Roaring Camp is a for-profit company, meaning it pays taxes to the county, state and country. More tax dollars would come in if they became the operator. Those tax dollars would benefit everyone. A multi-use pathway will make no money; freight does.

Traffic: Greenway argues that a train creates traffic and blocks the road. However, the math says otherwise. Assuming that there are freight services north of Watsonville for 3 days a week with 1 train a day full of lumber from Felton to Watsonville, that is at least 1 train in both directions passing a level crossing between Santa Cruz and Watsonville. That is not much of a nuisance. However, if the line was turned into a trail, that would mean that 8,000 people a day would use the trail according to Greenway’s estimations. That produces more traffic than a freight train.

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I would fix that Santa Cruz Branch situation like this: Come to a leasing agreement with Roaring Camp, permitting them the rights to operate the Santa Cruz Branch once the bridges are repaired and run freight services along with an expansion of tourist trains to Davenport or Capitola. As for capacity issues for a trail, I propose that more permanent bike lanes be constructed throughout the county on roads that can’t follow the tracks. That way, cyclists are protected by a barrier on the road for part of the way and can safely travel near the tracks. The future of transportation in this country is trails and rails, we can have both.

One last thing that I want to mention is that I am not affiliated with the FORT or Coast Connect.

Luke Lindroth

Santa Cruz


This letter does not necessarily reflect the views of Good Times. To submit a letter to the editor of Good Times: Letters should be originals—not copies of letters sent to other publications. Please include your name and email address to help us verify your submission (email address will not be published). Please be brief. Letters may be edited for length, clarity and to correct factual inaccuracies known to us. Send letters to [email protected] 

4 COMMENTS

  1. Nice to see 14-year-old Luke is getting more editorial space in Santa Cruz Publications. Although he claims in his letter as “I want to mention that I am not affiliated with FORT or Coast Connect”, he seems to have fo quite a bit of videography for Coast Futura, a project of Coast Connect, funded by FORT. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mEjFTP2GpLg

    • Thank you Jack for expressing your interest in my YouTube channel. However, I did want to clarify a few things to make sure that your facts about me are correct:

      1.) I have NEVER shown or published a video of anyone being hit by a train. Second, I made that video to raise awareness about railroad safety.

      2.) I filmed the Coast Futura because I was intrigued by the service and I had a Photography class where we had to do a Photojournalism Unit. As it just so happened, the Coast Futura came and I filmed and took pictures. So no, I am not affiliated with any of the rail and trail groups. I made that video for my High School class.

      3.) I am not 14 years old, I am 16. Not that it should matter.

      If you want to dispute the facts that I have collected from trusted and factual sources, please feel free to contact me.

      Email: [email protected]

  2. Union Pacific was losing money on this branch line even before the cement plant closed. Sierra Northern had the same problem because the type of product best transported by rail is not created along this spur north of Watsonville.

    Roaring Camp bought the freight rights to their line from Southern Pacific in 1985. It would be valuable to learn how much freight Roaring Camp transported by rail both along their own line and the Santa Cruz Branch Line prior to the purchase of the branch line by the RTC in 2012.

    If there were a need for freight services north of Watsonville, we would see MANY more trucks hauling freight on Highways 1 and 17. The freight trucks we see now do not carry freight usually sent via rail and the heavy industries that do create the market for freight lines would not be welcomed by our community.

  3. I thank Luke for his letter and our RTC for having created the Coastal Rail Trail plan and accepted Electric Rail Transit as the preferred alternative for our rail corridor. I also want to thank Roaring Camp for becoming the provider of rail freight shipments to several customers in Watsonville.

    The Coastal Commission has expressed support for both freight and rail transit in our region because of the environmental benefits and their ability to reduce congestion while expanding access for people to coastal features. To their benefit, the RTC is contractually obliged to repair the line and make it freight-capable. I urge them to seek funding vigorously.

    Finally, the “freight easement” is the federal recognition and protection of our rail line that prevents short-sighted political moves to remove any part of it. This, combined with the outcome of every study proving rail transit (with trail) to be the best use of the corridor, assure our community of not only a world class bike trail but a world class rail line, capable of many uses.

    A freight capable line can do more than move freight, it can move emergency equipment like fire trains and provide other natural disaster relief services, it can also be used for light rail as was seen last October with the Coast Futura wireless streetcar demonstration. We saw seven days of hourly service in Watsonville, Capitola, and Santa Cruz on our existing tracks. http://www.coastfutura.org

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